Voter ID Laws: Two States, Two Outcomes

 

The legislatures of both Texas and North Carolina passed laws requiring photo ID to vote, and accepting only certain types of photo ID that whites are more likely to have than African Americans and Latinos are.  But the North Carolina law is dead, while the Texas law, which looked for a moment as if it might be dead, is now, at least for the moment, quite alive.

The North Carolina law was struck down by a circuit court of appeals as being racially discriminatory in its intent.  The Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal, which means that the lower court ruling stands and the ID law does not.  (New York Times articles, July 29, 2016 and May 15, 2017.)  But in Texas, after a federal district judge struck that law down, the court of appeals in that circuit overruled the district court and, pending a final decision on the law (which hasn’t been made yet), is allowing it to go into effect.  (NPR report, August 23, 2017; Reuters report, September 5, 2017.)

Part of what is involved in Texas is that the legislature amended its original law to allow a person who has a hardship obtaining the required ID to cast a ballot while filing an affidavit attesting to the reasons why obtaining such ID poses such a hardship, with the admonition that a false statement amounts to the punishable crime of perjury.  For the lower court, that wasn’t good enough; for the upper court, at least in the preliminary round (because the merits of the case are still pending a decision), it was.

The states where restrictive voter ID laws are an issue are states where the Republicans are in control and where the Democrats, with varying degrees of optimism, hope to make some headway.  North Carolina stands out in that it was a swing state in the last election that actually looked good for Hillary Clinton for a while, though of course ultimately it went for Trump (and for the Republican Senate candidate as well).

At the same time that the federal courts are hearing voter ID cases, they’re also hearing cases involving racial gerrymandering, and North Carolina was on the losing side of such a case before the Supreme Court this past year: one of the rare instances where Clarence Thomas voted with the four liberals on a case that involved race.  (NPR report, May 23, 2017.)

 

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